Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Cocktail Story Part 2 - Rims, Mixes and Garnishes

A Cocktail Story  Part 2 - Rims, Mixes and Garnishes

A lot of the fun of having cocktails out, apart from the social atmosphere, is watching bartenders perform their magic tricks. But for all the elaborate liqueurs, tinctures and slight of hand that comes with professionally made cocktails, you can still create impressive drinks at home with only a handful of ingredients and a few easy tricks. Just mix a simple recipe with a great garnish and a fun rim and raise your glass for a toast. Cheers!

Even the simplest of drinks becomes more appealing with the addition of a garnish. Add a maraschino cherry and wedge of citrus for a professional looking beverage. Whether lemons, limes, oranges or pineapple, we like to garnish with an ingredient used in the drink. You can also garnish with a sprig of mint or basil but consider adding flavor along with appearance by also muddling the herb into the drink.

Balalaika Cocktail
Balalaikas with sugared rims
Glasses can be rimmed for both additional flavor and beautiful presentation. Margaritas are most typically rimmed with salt to enhance the tequila flavor but most rims are done in sugar for a little extra sweetness. Glasses can also be rimmed with more unusual ingredients like chocolate or graham crackers. We've seen candy cane pieces, sprinkles and lots of other unique presentations. To rim a glass, place a tablespoon of sugar or salt into a shallow dish. Run the edge of a cut lemon or lime along the rim of the glass to wet it, then dip the rim into the dish of sugar/salt. If the drink doesn't include any citrus, you can wet the edge of the glass with a bit of whatever liquor you're using.

Creamy Pumpkin Martini
Creamy pumpkin martini w/cinnamon rim
We usually stay away from novelty rims and only do it if we really feel that the rim will enhance the flavor of the drink. Sugared rims can be nice for very sour drinks like the Balalaika. Conversely, grating a bit of lemon peel and mixing it in with the sugar on the rim can add some balance to a very sweet drink.

Chocolate Pumpkin-tini
Chocolate Pumpkin-tini
Cinnamon greatly enhances the flavor of pumpkin so we used a sugar and cinnamon rim for our Creamy Pumpkin Martini this year. And, of course, grated chocolate both looks and tastes amazing on our Chocolate Pumpkin-tini.

Lemon and Basil Martini
Lemon and Basil Martini
We love using fresh herbs in cocktails because they can greatly enhance the flavor as well as add a refreshing kick. Most people think to add mint to a drink but lots of herbs will be wonderful additions as long as they're properly paired up with the other ingredients.

Maple Leaf Cocktail
Maple Leaf cocktail w/thyme
Basil compliments the flavors of lemon, strawberry and watermelon beautifully. Thyme, a powerful herb normally paired with beef dishes, stands up well to the rich taste of maple and bourbon in our Maple Leaf cocktail. And rosemary works beautifully with lemon and vodka. We like to muddle the herbs in the cocktail shaker to release their essential oils and then garnish with a fresh sprig of whatever we've chosen. You can also make an herb simple syrup with the recipe below.

The Sweet and the Sour
No matter what cocktail we're planning to make, a few staple ingredients are always in our fridge. A cute set of inexpensive glass bottles that we fit with pourers are always filled with freshly squeezed lemon juice, lime juice and simple syrup.

Simple Syrup
Simple Syrup
Simple syrup
The most basic of cocktail sweeteners is simple syrup which is as simple to make as the name implies. It's merely equal parts of water and sugar that are heated until the sugar dissolves. As you know if you've ever tried to sweeten iced tea, sugar doesn't dissolve well in cold liquids. Keeping a bottle of this handy syrup in the refrigerator makes sweetening both your cocktails and your iced tea simple!

Place equal parts of water and sugar in a pot on the stove and bring to a gentle boil. Stir until the sugar completely dissolves. Turn off the heat and allow the liquid to cool. Store in the refrigerator.

Ginger Syrup
Ginger Syrup
Ginger syrup
Building on the simple syrup base, you can add more flavors to your mixture. This is particularly true for ingredients that wouldn't blend well in a cocktail shaker such as fresh ginger. If you haven't tried the fresh version, it's quite sweet, slightly lemony and has a wonderful aroma. The root is called a "hand" of ginger and is available at most markets.

A "hand" of ginger
You'll need to peel the ginger before you grate it if you're using it for cooking but the peel can remain on for the purposes of making this syrup. Simply cut about 10 slices for each half cup of water and sugar you're making and add the ginger slices to the pot when you're cooking the syrup. It will be delicious as soon as it cools but storing the syrup in a sealed container with the ginger slices will enhance the ginger flavor over time. Kept in the fridge, it should last up to two weeks.

Sour Mix
Sour Mix
Sour mix
Some cocktail recipes call for sour mix which sounds like a mysterious professional bartender's creation. But, in fact, it's nearly as easy to make as the syrups above.

For every 3 oz. of water and sugar, add 2 oz. each of lemon and lime juice to the pot. Bring to a boil on the stove, stir until the sugar has dissolved, cool and keep in the refrigerator.

Cocktails for a Crowd
Rummy Pumpkin
Rummy Pumpkin cocktail
If you're expecting a large or semi large crowd for a gathering, it can be challenging to make drinks to order. This past Thanksgiving, Brian and I decided that our newly created and much beloved Rummy Pumpkin would be our house cocktail for the holiday. Even so, there are quite a few ingredients and making each drink would still occupy one of us for some time. So we lightened our load even more by pre-making the mix and keeping it in a large pitcher in the refrigerator. Then, as guests arrived, we only needed to shake each drink over ice and pour into already chilled glasses.

When we were making the batch we ran through our guest list and calculated who we thought would have one, who would have two and who we thought would take a couple of polite sips before switching to wine or sparkling cider. Boy, were we wrong! Let's just say that, next year, we're going to need a much bigger pitcher!

Stay tuned for part three and to see our complete list of our cocktail recipes to date, click on the A Cocktail Life tab at the top of the blog.

A Cocktail Story - Part 1
A Cocktail Story Part 1


  1. I also enjoy it because I don't usually keep but a few bottles of alcohol in the house, so I just enjoy having a greater variety without having to invest in 20 different bottles!

  2. This is such a great post! I had no idea making syrups was that easy, or that basil or thyme would go so well in a cocktail. Bookmarking this post!

  3. Like the ginger syrup Idea. yummy.

  4. So much good information here! I love the idea of having a pitcher of a specialty drink ready to go in the fridge~


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